Real Russia Blog

Perceptions of Russia
24
October
2017

Perceptions of Russia

Why was Russia the biggest surprise of 95 countries Jessica has visited.

It is very easy to get a distorted view of a country, or people, from watching Hollywood movies and following social media. The easiest (if not the cheapest) remedy to this, is to travel and see the world for yourself. Continuing her series of blogs written exclusively for Real Russia, Jessica, creator of travel blog How Dare She, shares with us how her perceptions of Russia and her people changed when she had the opportunity to visit the country herself.
I didn’t know what to expect of Russia. Of Russians. Of Russian food. And out of the 95 countries I’ve been to, I’d have to say that Russia was the biggest surprise of them all. Where I expected ice and snow, I found rolling greens and lakes. When the stereotypes told me to expect Bond villains, I got boisterous, affable friends.

Russia is huge

If you look at a map, this should be quite obvious, but Russia really is huge. It doesn’t sink in fully until you’re planning stops on the train journey. There are so many options, how to choose? I was surprised when I talked with other passengers on the way from Mongolia into Irkutsk – most were stopping in Irkutsk and then going the long haul to Moscow with no stops in between. While the East and West of the country are quite different, surely there were cities in between worth visiting. At least that’s what I figured … I was right.

I stopped in Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Perm, Yekaterinburg, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Each unique, but with common themes. Tall, beautiful, friendly people, delicious food and interesting architecture.

In Irkutsk you are a few quick hours from the stunning Lake Baikal. I did not give myself enough time there. I wish I had known on the front end that it was so ecologically diverse (known as Russia’s Galapagos) and so massive (it contains 20% of the entire world’s freshwater supply). I also wish I liked fish because everyone seemed to be enjoying it.


Lake Baikal

On to Novosibirsk, where I went to the famous opera house to see my first opera, in the first row, for $4, and the next day went to the zoo and saw my first liger. A lot of firsts in Novosibirsk.

Next up was Omsk, where the Soviet architecture stood out. It’s a big city and I just enjoyed walking around, or riding the (very cheap) busses around when my feet got tired.


Novosibirsk Opera House

Both Perm and Yekaterinburg were great to explore by foot, helped by tourist paths painted on the sidewalk so you don’t miss anything.

Moscow is the main event. So big that it’s almost overwhelming, but with such a great transit system, it’s as if the city shrinks – pro-tip, get the multi-day transit pass, it’s unlimited and cheap. Red Square and the surrounding area is beautiful by day, but even more charming by night. St. Basil’s Cathedral is popular for a reason and an absolute must – not just for its beauty, but listening to a chorus sung in the cathedral gave me chills. Oh, yeah, and the city has a Vodka Museum. So, it’s a winner for me. I could definitely live there.


Inside St.Basil's Cathedral


Red Square

St. Petersburg honestly wasn’t on my radar, but I was going to be going onward to Finland, so it just made sense logistically. I strolled the city, taking in another different, but still clearly Soviet, style of architecture. I ended up on a canal cruise, which was in Russian, but I didn’t mind. I was less interested in the buildings’ history and more interested in a relaxing time seeing the city from the water. By canal or by foot, the city was way more than just a logistical stop. I finished my time in Russia with a local folk show, and it was a fantastic evening to wrap up the experience.

Savior on the Spilled Blood Church, St. Petersburg​

Russia experiences summer

That Russia does experience summer, is another point that might seem quite obvious. But as someone who doesn’t care for snow, all I was worried about was not putting myself in a blizzard. And on the Eastern shores of Lake Baikal I got scared. Snow. And lots of it. Then we rounded the lake and entered into summer. June and July in Russia are delightful. Blue skies, warmth from the sun during the day and enough of a chill at night to cool back off.

This was probably best exemplified walking around the parks of any of the cities, which were filled with families enjoying the weather, eating ice cream and ambling around on rollerblades. Squares across the country had mini-electric cars that kids could take for a spin or animals to pet. Did I mention the ice cream?

Russians are so Russian

Everyone is so ‘Russian’,” I thought to myself as I got to Moscow. Even upon reflection, I can’t come up with a better way to describe the style. It’s as varied as it is bold and confident. Someone decked out in traditional Eastern Orthodox clothing wouldn’t look out of place sitting next to a woman dressed to perfection for a business meeting, or teens with hair from any color on the spectrum.

By this point, I also knew that being so Russian meant that while someone may not be smiling, it didn’t mean that they weren’t friendly. Whether meeting on a train or in a pub, I found the people to be incredibly warm and genuinely curious.

“What do Americans think of Russia?” A question that I would be asked over and over, and which I would learn my answer for was totally incomplete. They were so curious about what we thought, as if I represented the whole of the USA.

I don’t know what Americans think of Russia, but I certainly know what I’ll be reporting back. Must visit, and I’m sure planning to make use of that three-year visa.
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Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your experience travelling across Russia, the largest, and possible most enigmatic, country in the world. Be sure to check out her other, equally fantastic, blogs.
And don’t forget to follow her inspiring travel adventures on her blog, How Dare She, her Facebook, Twitter and her Instagram jess_ismore.

If you want to follow in Jess’s footsteps, Real Russia offer a comprehensive range of tours, taking in the three different ‘Trans-Siberian’ routes, between Moscow and Vladivostok, and Moscow and Beijing.
Click here to take a look and book now!

Real Russia Blog

Meet the team: Igor Skorodumov
19
July
2017

Meet the team: Igor Skorodumov

Our Travel Expert in Volzhsky, Russia

Introducing our team.

We have a well-established team of highly experienced travel specialists, who are happy to assist with your travel needs, or find your perfect destination within Russia and the surrounding countries. These are the people who make our company so special. Today let us introduce Igor, a Tour Operations Supervisor.

Igor, a Tour Operations Supervisor at Real Russia

Igor Skorodumov joined Real Russia team in 2007. Igor has a Specialist’s Degree in Economics and, in addition to his native Russian, speaks three foreign languages, English, French and German. Whenever he has free time, he reads books, works in his country house (dacha), makes crafts at home, practices sports, takes photos etc.

He likes to travel and often travels with his family within Volgograd and Astrakhan regions of Russia, as well as further afield.

As Igor is a well-known enthusiast of travel within Russia, a fan of history and simply a ‘human encyclopaedia’, we decided to get straight to the point.

Igor's favourite destinations in Russia

Which city in Russia is the most appealing for you ?

It’s a difficult question, because each city has its own authentic beauty, history, population, dialect etc. The further one goes away from Moscow, the more vivid the local character of the city becomes.

Apart from well-loved Moscow and St.-Petersburg, I would like to accent here four cities along the Trans-Siberian railways: Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ulan-Ude.

Kazan

Kazan is a mixture of past and present, Muslim and Christianity, with many stunning monuments on the Volga River. It is surprising to see how the different cultures, religions can coexist peacefully for several centuries. I think this is one of the “must-see” cities in Russia for those who want to dig deeper and see the 'real' Russia.

​Against the Kazan Kremlin wall

Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg is one of the cities that played the most important role in the history of the country. It is the city where the last tsar’s family was executed putting an end to Imperial Russia; it is the city where the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin was born; he was the one who put an end to the Soviet Union; there is a border line between Europe and Asia; it is the city that culturally can challenge St. Petersburg in the number of rock bands, musicians, composers and actors it has produced. The city is beautifully located South of the Ural Mountains. If you are making a stopover in this city, don’t miss a chance to taste Ural dumplings and walk along the streets that have preserved the style of the former Soviet Union.

Novosibirsk

Nestled along the Ob river, Novosibirsk depicts the grandeur of the Russian Empire: the biggest buildings being the railway station and the Opera House. Nowadays it is the scientific and intellectual centre of Russia. Siberian culture shows itself through the authentic meals, the way they are served and the way people communicate. There are lots of places to visit, for example, the Trans-Siberian railway museum, an Open-air Museum of locomotives and carriages, and the beautiful embankment of the Tsar Alexander III.

Ulan Ude

Ulan-Ude is the capital of Buryatia, and is striking to its visitors, with its colourful Buddhist buildings and traditional clothes. People here are very hospitable and friendly. The city has lots of featured buildings that absorbed both the local, and the Russian, cultures.

Where did you spend your last holiday?

My family and I went to the Russian analogue of the Dead Sea, the lake Baskunchak. We had a tour at Bogdo Mountain, a sacred mountain for people who believe in Buddhism (Kalmyks, Buryats, Mongols etc.).

The Trans-Siberian: A taste for the ‘real’ Russia, Mongolia and China

Last year you embarked on the Trans-Siberian railway with other members of the Real Russia team. How could you describe your experience on the Trans-Siberian in three words?

Contrasts, knowledge and history.

What was the most impressive in your trip?

We had a chance to witness the contrasts between two continents- Europe and Asia, between three countries along the Trans-Siberian – Russia, Mongolia and China, and observe a variety of cultures and lifestyles, as every place we visited has its own character and story to tell. After an intense and history laden two weeks in Russia, Mongolia was very quiet and sparsely-inhabited. And then, just one night away by train, we were in heavily-populated China; another incredible change again.

Why do you think Mongolia captured you?

I expected it to be a totally new experience for me, however, it is there, in Mongolia, where I felt more like at home than anywhere in Russia. This feeling was intensified when we came to Terelj National Park. I enjoyed this authentic atmosphere of simplicity, hospitability and friendliness. This country has the authentic values and is developing at its own pace, thoroughly keeping its character.


Igor in Terelj National Park, Mongolia

What advice would you give to customers that are planning on travelling to Mongolia for the first time?

Well, I would suggest they be prepared for lots of walking (take comfortable sport clothes, sneakers etc.), exchange their currency for the local one to be able to give tips or buy some sweets to share (for example, when visiting Nomads).

For vegetarians, I suggest searching in advance for the restaurants or check with Real Russia travel specialists about places serving vegetarian food or, if tour is booked, then it should be noted beforehand, because meat is the main food in the country.

Why do you think the Trans-Siberian route is so popular among foreign travellers?

It is the longest railway in the world stretching through two continents, several time zones and different landscapes. It is the best way one can experience Russia, Mongolia and China, admiring through the window, sitting in a comfortable compartment on a train.

What don’t we know about Igor

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I like to listen to Rock music at a high volume when I am alone at home.

What are your favourite books?

Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, and ‘The Adventures of Werner Holtv’ Dieter Noll.

What do you love the most about Real Russia?

I love the most about Real Russia that it is a real team. Many of team members are from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries, and, nevertheless, we have the mutual supportiveness and dedication that make every day at work great. For me, we have a team of professionals that have been awarded the World Travel Award for being Russian’s Leading Travel Agent for last four years not by chance, but by hard work.
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We thank Igor for squeezing us in, and look forward to introducing you to another member of our amazing team soon. Click here to find more series of our interviews!

Let us help you with your next adventure, contact our travel specialists.

Real Russia Blog

Let the adventures begin in Novosibirsk
14
September
2015

Let the adventures begin in Novosibirsk

Introducing the unofficial capital of Siberia, Novosibirsk!

Novosibirsk is the third most populated city in Russia and Siberia’s largest metropolis, making Novosibirsk the unofficial capital of Siberia. The city was founded in 1893 and was built for the purpose of developing the famous Trans-Siberian Railway Bridge over the River OB.

Although the city is very proud of the fact, Novosibirsk is famous for more than just the Trans-Siberian; it is one of three leading scientific centres in Russia, after Moscow and St Petersburg of course. Novosibirsk is also known for being one of Russia’s fastest growing centres of culture with many thriving art galleries, a world famous Opera and Ballet House, and the renowned University of Novosibirsk.

When I was given the task to update our current catalogues with new destinations, Novosibirsk seemed an obvious decision to make mainly for its Trans-Siberian heritage, and for the purpose of covering the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian, and Trans-Manchurian route. In all honesty, I was equally sold on the idea of having authentic experiences with real locals, and I imagine that this is an experience which many of you will find very appealing.

So what is there to do in Novosibirsk, you ask?

I encourage you to not let the fact that it’s a new city fool you into believing that Novosibirsk has nothing to offer.



Novosibirsk is a Trans-Siberian traveller’s paradise with history at every turn; the culture is vibrant and the locals are very proud of their heritage. The list of activities is endless, a city tour offers innumerable opportunities to get to know Siberia’s new Chicago, and a tour around Akademogorodoc will allow you to immerse yourself in everything that the city stands for, including its Trans-Siberian legacy.



To begin a tour of Novosibirsk, I would venture off into the city with a local guide to explore the all the main sites, starting in Main Square at the Lenin monument, then on marvel at the State Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Following on from the theatre, I would travel to the oldest part of the city, Gorkovo Street, before finishing with a trip to the Ascension Cathedral, St Nicholas Chapel, and the OB River embankment to admire the stunning views as it stretches into the distance.



The last leg of my city tour would include a visit to the old Siberian farmers market, to sample some delicious Siberian delicacies like smoked omul. If you’ve read my food blog ‘A Taste of Russia’, then you’ve already become acquainted with my attempts to make Russian food, so for the purpose of tasting authentic Russian food done right, my trip to the Siberian farmers market would also involve sampling a few Russian dishes.I imagine at the farmers market I would engage with the local traders, learn a few new Russian words, and maybe purchase a Matryoshka doll to take home with me.



When in Russia, do what Russian’s do… or is that Rome?

Vodka, food, and great company is what I call a good time.

My idea of the perfect cultural experience would be to spend an afternoon sat around a dinner table with a local family, and feel as though I’m part of the Russian family by experiencing hospitality, which I’ve been told, is unlike anywhere else in the world. Being able to engage with the locals in the setting of their own home, learning more about their heritage, and briefly immersing myself in their traditions is what I would call an authentic experience.

In my quest to immerse myself in the Novosibirsk culture, I would consider a culinary masterclass and learn the secret to preparing authentic Russian and Siberian cuisine, including pelmeni (which I’ve successfully made before), borsch and shchi. I would quite happily end my cultural adventure here, but I know I would be missing out on the opportunity to become a true ‘Novosibirsker’. With that said, I would spend a day with a local and venture through the lesser known sites to see all the city’s hidden treasures, before trying some of the city’s delicious street food.



All good things must come to an end!

For a city that is only a century old, Novosibirsk has many of interesting and historical sights and stories to tell you. If you’re more of a history enthusiast, I recommend ending your trip in the town of Akademorodok, one of the only scientific towns in Russia, which was the home to over 60,000 scientist during the period of the USSR.

While in Akademogorodok, I would take a tour of the town then proceed to the Open Air Train Museum to see all the magnificent vintage trains, and learn more about the history of the great Trans-Siberian Railway, before continuing down to the embankment of Novosibirskoye Reservoir.

Last but certainly not least, as an animal lover it seems only logical to end my journey by visiting the Novosibirsk zoo to catch a glimpse of some of its endangered wildlife, including the Siberian tiger.



Until next time, do svidaniya (Goodbye)!

Now that I’ve introduced you to the incredible city that is Novosibirsk, feel free to browse through our excursions catalogue, or choose from one of the listed destinations. Remember to keep an eye open for more excursions that will be added over the next few months.

My aim is to expand our collection of activities in Russia and its neighbouring countries, and bring you even more exciting excursions that will enable you to have a truly authentic experience, wherever you decide to go.

If you’re still unsure of what you can do to enhance your experience in Russia, Mongolia and China, you might get a few ideas if you read the previous instalment in ‘Let the adventures begin’.

Have you been to Novosibirsk? If you have, what were the main highlights of your trip?

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